Keith Bellows, a visionary journalist, author, and globetrotter who was editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler for 17 years, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 63.
Bellows, who was named a vice president of the National Geographic Society in 2000, stepped down from the magazine last October. Under his stewardship, Traveler, which is the world's most widely read travel magazine and has 17 international editions, won several dozen international awards, including a 2012 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism gold award for its website.
"Keith's passion, professionalism and infectious enthusiasm were key to making National Geographic a travel powerhouse. I loved being swept into Keith's vortex and always came away inspired to travel more, read more, and live life to its fullest," says Chris Johns, National Geographic Society's chief content officer.
Bellows authored several travel books, most recently 100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life : From Your Backyard to the Ends of the Earth, published in 2013.
Bellows “was a giant in the world of travel journalism. In an industry marked by larger-than-life editors, he was as big as they came,” says Norie Quintos, Traveler’s executive editor. “To our staff he was a champion of excellence as well as a fierce believer in the power of travel to change the world. He spent his last years working to give his children—Adam, Chase, and Mackenzie—and all children the transformative gift of travel.”
Traveler contributing editor Andrew Nelson called Bellows a superb wordsmith "who could spot a manuscript's strengths and flaws in a single read." Kristian Jorgensen, CEO of Fjord Norway, said he was a visionary "with the intuitive ability of seeing what was unique about a destination and finding the best way of communicating this."
Calling travel “the world’s most powerful learning tool,” Bellows said his goal was to make it “become a bigger force in cultural literacy and in the world economy.” A longtime sailor, he recently wrote that sailing is “a metaphor for our times” and that one of his favorite quotations was “the man who tires of London tires of life.”
After leaving National Geographic, he was director of consumer engagement at the nonprofit Family Travel Association, which has the motto of “Changing Lives Through Travel.”
In addition to being the top editor at Traveler starting in 1998, Bellows developed a spinoff of the magazine’s website built around the award-winning special issue 50 Places of a Lifetime. He also wrote “One on One,” a regular interview column. He helped position Traveler as a leader in sustainable travel. He also helped create journeystreams, an innovative open-source website to help students tell stories.
Before joining National Geographic, Bellows developed Internet content as early as 1994. He worked for Rupert Murdoch’s Delphi Web service; as creative director launched BabyCenter.com; was the executive producer of Excite.com; and was founding partner of WestWorld Media, which developed Metallica’s first website and created the college-based Campus Voice.com.
Bellows also was the editor of the Smart Health/Smart Parenting Division of New York-based Meigher Communications, and he was founder of the Media Development Group, Inc., which created print properties for Disney, Utne Reader, Vegetarian Times, and others. As President/Creative of Whittle Communications, he was the editor of its flagship Special Reports magazine and executive producer of the companion “Special Reports TV with Joan Lunden.” In his 14 years at Whittle he launched and edited 30 magazines.
Bellows, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and was a Canadian citizen, attended schools in Scotland and four other countries. He graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, where he studied English and environmental studies.
He is survived by his former wife, Melina Gerosa Bellows, who is chief education officer of the National Geographic Society, and three children, Adam Bellows, Chase Bellows, and Mackenzie Bellows.